‘The 2023 version of Nile Kinnick’: Cooper DeJean takes small-town dreams to next level

‘The 2023 version of Nile Kinnick’: Cooper DeJean takes small-town dreams to next level

Cooper DeJean is the definition of electrifying. The stage he performs on has only gotten bigger every step of the way.

He was the best at the high school level in football and basketball. On the court, he floated through the sky and showed off his alien-like athleticism. On the football field, DeJean had no Division I offers until he took over at quarterback, where he led OABCIG to two state championships.

Despite his freakish abilities, only one Power 5 school offered him a scholarship: Iowa.

“It’s been crazy to be honest. If you asked me four years ago if I’d be here, I’d think you’re out of your mind.” DeJean said.

In college, DeJean scored more touchdowns than he allowed in coverage. As a punt returner, he brought fans to their feet like never before as he cut through punt units like a hot knife through butter.

He even took snaps on the offensive side of the ball. Yes, DeJean is a unicorn. There is nobody in football like him.

And yes, he doesn’t look like your typical cornerback in the NFL. The NFL hasn’t seen a white corner start since Jason Sehorn with the New York Giants in 2003. He says when he trains with NFL players he’s earned the nickname “Sehorn.”

“At the facility I train at there’s quite a few NFL guys that train there and some of the guys even call me that — like not even by my name,” DeJean said.

Of course, DeJean was faced with a tough decision in December. Growing up wanting to play at Kinnick Stadium and bringing 70,000 to their feet was a dream he was living out in real time.

“It was tough for me because this place is one of a kind. This was my dream school as a kid,” DeJean said. “I was literally crying to Coach Parker about the whole deal because I didn’t know what to do.”

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker isn’t prone to hyperbole, but even he felt there’s only one player in the history of Iowa football that’s worthy of a comparison.

“You start talking about — I don’t know about Nile Kinnick because I never saw him play — but you might be looking at the 2023 version of Nile Kinnick,” Parker said.

With a likely first-round NFL contract waiting for him, declaring for the draft was probably the right choice. DeJean’s ability to both cover in man-to-man and tackle make him viable at any position in the defensive backfield.

“I believe I can play corner,” DeJean said. “‘”I feel like with my ability I can do that speed- and size-wise, but I also feel like I have the athleticism to play different positions.”

Whether he’s the next Jason Sehorn or the next Earl Thomas is going to be up the team that drafts him. Kirk Ferentz said he could be the next Micah Hyde, who was a good slot corner but found himself at safety on his second NFL team.


As a corner, DeJean has the athleticism to play the position. He would be best fit playing in a zone-heavy scheme. Some have doubts he could play man-to-man, partially because of Iowa’s Cover 2 scheme.

Parker’s staff is so good they squeeze nearly every ounce of juice out of their players, and often there is a drop-off at the next level. The production in college can be a mirage, which is always a risk with players who come from elite coaching.

DeJean stands a half inch over 6 feet tall. He lacks arm length and weight, but he is muscular and able to press. A player that comes to mind with elite ball-hawking ability and versatility: Tyrann Mathieu.

DeJean has far less off-the-field concerns than Mathieu. Mathieu has been succeeding in the NFL as a ball-hawking safety and slot corner. DeJean is much taller, and Mathieu has better short-range quickness. But DeJean will most likely have success in the NFL in that role.

As for a home, The Green Bay Packers will likely want to hand their new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley a new chess piece. I’ll tab the Packers taking DeJean at 25, and reuniting him with his former Hawkeye teammate Lukas Van Ness.

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